As VMware kicks off VMworld 2015 this week, it's sort of strange to think about how the conference has evolved to become arguably the de facto enterprise storage industry event of the year. The fact that VMware, a software company, holds such an important position in the storage industry says a lot about VMware itself, but it also speaks to the evolving nature of storage technology.
No longer forcibly constrained in hardware silos, storage innovation has become far more about the software and the workload -- or virtual machine -- in recent years. And VMware is playing a significant part in that transition, especially with the introduction of Virtual SAN (VSAN) and Virtual Volumes (VVOLs) in vSphere 6.0.
While synergistic from an IT administrator’s point of view, VSAN and VVOLs could not be more diametrically opposed from the storage vendor’s point of view. VMware’s VVOLs make up a management and integration framework that automates storage management tasks, reduces complexity, and shifts management focus away from the storage infrastructure and more toward the application workloads. With VVOLs, storage providers see an opportunity to better align their solutions with a market dominant hypervisor, and to differentiate themselves from their storage competition.
With VSAN, however, VMware is -- at least in part -- the competition, regardless of what anyone says publicly. As such, with both technologies out in the industry, I look forward to seeing how storage industry players respond.
Over the decades, IT providers -- including storage providers -- have become arguably too infrastructure-centric. IT vendors obviously wish to highlight their innovations; as such, too many data center resources are often allocated to managing the storage, the switches, the backups, and the servers, when in fact, it's the information, the data, and the workloads that the business truly cares about. While the benefits of technologies like VSAN and VVOLs are often described as improving manageability and efficiency through automation, at a high level, these technologies represent a clear shift of focus away from infrastructure and toward the workload.
Some storage players have understood this demand for more automatic, workload-centric manageability for a while now. Tintri, Tegile, and hyperconverged vendors such as Nutanix and Simplivity are just a few examples, and they continue to develop their own innovations along with collaborating with VMware to solve these challenges. Other storage vendors, however, have been more reluctant. For the most intransigent vendors, VMware’s moves serve as a wake-up call for where the industry is headed.
There is a common scene in action and adventure films where the hero is investigating an ancient temple and inadvertently triggers some form of trap. Immediately, the ceiling starts to descend, or the walls close in, or a giant stone door starts to close and the hero must act quickly to escape or face some sort of horrible doom. That may seem like a dark analogy, but in a way, VMware storage technologies are driving the industry toward a workload-centric world, and storage vendors that fail to act quickly may seal their fate.